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Officer Thirsty
Surviving Behind the Counter
© 2012 James LaFond
It was a few nights ago, just before midnight, in a convenience store. I walked in alone to purchase a drink and snack. The little Liberian guy was glad to see me, a face he recognized, somebody with a job, headed somewhere, not a criminal. As he was ringing me up a tall, handsome cop with neatly-combed, wavy, brown hair and an impressive Batman utility belt, walked in. By the time my transaction was complete the cop was on his way out with a soda, drinking it, “Later now” he said. The clerk waved and nodded thankfully.
What were the dynamics here?
They were fear, power and corruption.
The clerk lives in mortal fear that he, in his lonely midnight store, will be robbed and killed. Perhaps herded back to the cooler and executed. Convenience store clerks have a job nearly as dangerous as a cab driver. Both of these jobs are more dangerous than the famously dangerous job of a police officer.
The cop had power: weapons, stature, social backing, a mandate to impose society’s will. This means that the clerk wants him around, desperately wants a uniformed gunman on site. I once worked for a supermarket chain that adopted a 24-hour schedule. The Head of Human Resources came around and told us to give the cops free coffee and doughnuts to keep them coming in. The Liberian clerk was just trying to survive the night.
The cop was corrupt, and took advantage of the clerk’s fear and his own power, to save $2. Two dollars was the price he sold his profession for on Wednesday night October 3rd 2012. I am certain that Baltimore County PD guidelines do not include a directive to procure free soft drinks. This is the part that bothers me. That cop makes twice as much as the clerk and I combined. He has a company car, benefits and early retirement, none of which we have in our lowly post as his servitor.
The week before this, I stood in line behind a uniformed Baltimore County cop at the supermarket while she paid for her $8 yuppie breakfast with an EBT ‘food stamp’ card. If Officer Thirsty was really doing his job he would have stopped in and inquired about the clerk’s security, any suspicious traffic, and then purchased his drink like I did. His was a tiny act of corruption, but a corrupt act none-the-less.
One evening, about 14 years ago, I was skulking by Mayor Martin’s house, past the police cruiser and its occupant who always pulled guard there, while a group of thugs tried to stone me for sport. While I was doing my own subtitled performance of The Naked Prey the rich and powerful snored away across the street. Now my cousin, Mayor Martin’s neighbor, assured me that this was for the greater good, as Mayor Martin had a "beautiful body," and she wanted nothing–particularly not stone-throwing street punks—coming between "Marty Baby" and his habit of taking out the trash in his underwear twice weekly. So, as Mayor Eye-candy proclaimed peace in our time and security in our town, I was hunted through the streets mere feet from his cozy den—Officer Sleepy nodding at the wheel a few less feet away.
At about the same time, at the height of our city’s crack epidemic, I was eating at a greasy spoon a mile up Harford Road, sitting down to enjoy my after-work breakfast, working up the gumption to go home and face the Matrimonial Unit. Just then five police officers came in and the owner abandoned me, halfway through taking my order, to serve their needs. They took the center table in the back of the diner and were eating before I even got my coffee.
Suspicious, I took my time, and drank coffee after coffee. I exchanged glares with the fat leader—I don’t know how they are ranked, but he was the leader. They turned and looked at me, drinking my coffee and reading my book, and had a few laughs, about what I know not. Eventually, as I finally got my eggs and toast, and polished off another cup of coffee, they left, having eaten their fill, and not paid a thing.
The owner was apologetic and kind, refilling my cup himself. I truly understood.
A few years earlier, in the same neighborhood, literally across the street, I had an encounter that drove home to me the terror that a person behind an off hours counter lives in. At the time I was a skinny guy who had not had a haircut in 15 years and wore a trench-coat and head-rag. I was headed out to SJ’s house for a 6:00 A.M. gaming session. This would be the rematch of Lion of Ethiopia, and I, as the Ethiopian mastermind, was expecting to slaughter a lot of Italians before they started dropping poison gas on my spearmen. I was preoccupied, in a hurry, thinking about how I was going to deal with their armored column coming up from Somalia. Slaughtering the grunts humping it through the passes out of the Sudan, that was the easy part…
There was a huge logistical problem however: PMS! SJ’s woman was PMSing, and she was a demon. If he lost to me, with my smaller boxer’s brain and all, because he was rattled by her constant ranting and nagging, I would thereby accrue no honor through his virtual table-top demise. There was an answer, one answer, like the One Ring dropped in the bowels of Mount Doom to slay the Dark Lord—chocolate doughnuts!
I hopped off the #19 in the cold January wind on that dark Sunday Morning and headed into the Dunkin’ Doughnut shop. The wallet was in my shirt pocket beneath my snapped duster, there to protect my heart from…would you believe hostile arrows?
As I pushed through the door with my right hand I tore open my coat with my left and simultaneously reached into my coat with my right. The two Pakistani teens behind the counter—girl and boy—grew big eyes, looked at each other, and dove face first into the kitchen. I was now standing before an empty counter to my left. To my right was a middle-aged white man with a pretty young woman. The man looked at me with his mouth open, fear glowing brightly in his blue eyes, and stupid me finally realized that this looked really bad. But, at that age, I still hated pretty much every man I met, particularly wimps like him.
Permitting myself to feel offended, I placed my wallet on the counter and leered like some scumbag biker villain in a movie about a heroic suburbanite, at the attractive young woman, just to emasculate him. He swallowed hard, and she smiled. I felt like a jerk [and indeed had been] then. That college girl, perhaps his daughter, had more guts than him. By now, the Pakistani kids were peeking around the corner. Having determined that I was armed with a wallet and not a Colt .45, the girl came out to take my order, while the boy’s eyes darted about.
That incident made me think, and I have ever since tried not to seem threatening when I enter a lonely shop, knowing that the clerk is wondering if this is the one, the walk-in that will rob or murder them.
So, if you own a convenience store, what is my advice?
Discounts and free stuff for cops is a good idea. If you don’t put out they will find a more willing cow to milk. However, if you have a dumpy Liberian dude behind the counter they will just come in long enough to take your stuff, offering minimal deterrence. However, if you have a statuesque Liberian babe behind the counter—now we are talking Order of Magnitude Deterrence effect! Not only will Officer Thirsty stick around for a while, he will have competition from Officer Hungry, Officer Lazy, and most of all, from Officer Friendly, and from his babe-seeking-missile of a colleague Officer Horny. It will be a cop convention. The ugly Greek guy down the street at the competing farm store can fend for himself.
Don’t be that guy.
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LaMano     Jul 6, 2017

That dynamic's been going on since my grandfather was a young man in the early 1900s.

"All the cops in the donut shop sayin' way oh way oh way oooohhh ..."

Donut shops because they have the best coffee, not because cops like donuts.

Here in our county, the new sheriff lets his deputies drive their cars home and use them inside the county when they run errands. Every store clerk everywhere likes to see a police cruiser parked out front.

But wordlessly shaking down the store for a few bucks is surely a sign of bigger corruption to come. Offering the clerk the money and letting him say "No, it's on the house, thanks for your service" is fine, as long as the clerk really has the option ....
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